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Get the reporting, research and analysis behind on-air stories straight from the CNN Medical Unit, led by chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Breakfast can help keep you lean

    • Eating within first few hours of waking kick-starts metabolism and gives energy
    • Studies show people who eat breakfast concentrate better
    • Study: People who eat breakfast weigh less and exercise more than those who don't
  • Bottom Line: Get a healthy combination of fiber, carbohydrates and protein for breakfast. An average person should consume 500 calories.
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Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but be aware of what you're eating.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but be aware of what you're eating.

Overview

What exactly is it about breakfast that makes it so beneficial? And are all are breakfasts created equal? A study from Pediatrics, published in March 2008, looked at 2,000 teenagers and found that teens who ate breakfast weighed less, exercised more and ate healthier food than their classmates who didn't eat breakfast

Questions and answers

Are all breakfasts created equal?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent: No, all breakfasts are definitely not created equal. We talked to an expert at the American Dietetic Association to help us "grade" a few popular breakfast options. Let's start at the bottom with a breakfast that would get a "C" average grade: Fast food breakfast sandwich, pastry or sugary cereal.

These foods get a "C" for a number of reasons. The types of fat in these foods are the bad fats, and it certainly is not balanced. These foods are going to be high in sugar and carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein, which are essential for a balanced breakfast.

Let's flip to the foods that get a "B" average grade: bagel, breakfast bar, breakfast shake or pancakes with syrup.

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These foods are a good start but aren't quite there. Take, for example, the breakfast shake: Many people blend up some milk and fruit. Although it's healthy for you, to make it a complete meal, you should add a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread.

OK, now for the winner, the "A+" breakfast: oatmeal with skim milk, a half-ounce nuts, berries and orange juice.

This is the ultimate breakfast because you've got a whole grain in the oatmeal, a protein in the skim milk, heart-healthy fats in your nuts, and the berries are a great source of antioxidants. You can wash the meal down with a nice glass of orange juice, which is loaded with vitamin C and potassium. Remember that you should be consuming a significant amount of calories at breakfast -- around 500, depending on the person. Eating a hearty breakfast will keep you full for several hours and prevent you from snacking at that morning meeting. And important to remember: If you wake up and are not hungry in the morning, it is a big indicator that you are overeating at night.

Background
CNN spoke with Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D., an author and counselor and a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Here's a part of that conversation.

CNN: Explain the real benefits of eating breakfast. In your experience, have you seen among your patients the same results this study showed: that people who aren't eating breakfast actually weigh more? How is that?

Tallmadge: In general, people who ate more in the beginning [of] the day ate fewer overall. As soon as you start eating, you start raising your metabolism; your whole body is burning calories earlier in the day. Helps control your appetite. People who skip breakfast -- victims of vending machines. The pickers -- they eat overall more calories, tend to eat more.

CNN: What about for the people who say, "I just don't have time to eat breakfast"? What are your tips?

Tallmadge: Everyone has time to eat breakfast. If someone says they don't, then they should be happy being fat and unhealthy.

CNN: If someone's option is a chocolate glazed doughnut in the morning, should they eat that or skip breakfast that day? Is it better to eat something more than nothing at all?

Tallmadge: A doughnut is a no-no. That is not a good option, and it would never be someone's "only option." We all have choices, and if people want to be fit, they need to start making healthier ones. When kids eat breakfast, it improves nutritional habits for the whole day.

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